“Oh my god. I just had a donut. It was an accident coach, but now I’m screwed. If history is any indicator, I’ll have had 7 more by the time I leave the office. I’ve never managed to stick to my diet this long before, so I guess it was only a matter of time until I fail.”
What you just witnessed is called a fixed mindset. I receive messages like these from my clients on a regular basis.
I’ll inevitably cut in with something a little provocative, like this…
“If that’s what history indicates, I strongly suggest you pick a different indicator :)”
“So you’ve stuck to your diet longer than ever before, but it’s impossible for you to get better? My contradiction radar just went off!”
You see, as much as I love encouraging my clients, and getting them to pick themselves up and move forward, a fixed mindset is tough to crack, and therefore oftencalls for a steamroller.
It’s one of the root problems when trying to improve your habits and getting rid of it often requires one or even multiple striking, powerful, memorable and somewhat drastic events.
Today I’m going to show you how to create those events for yourself. But first, a story — because everyone loves those.
Why a Fixed Mindset Will Lead to an Unhappy Life
The idea of a fixed mindset was first described by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her book Mindset.
In a fixed mindset, you consider all of your skills, abilities and talents as given, permanent and, well, fixed.
You let your entire past determine your entire future and basically hand off responsibility to nature, god or the universe — because you assume all you’ll ever get is what you’ve always gotten.
Compare that to a growth mindset, in which you assume you can handle or at least learn anything, because your future is determined by your own actions, effort and persistence.
It’s the comfort zone thing all over again.
You can already see how the former leads you to a place where you’re constantly looking for new excuses and things or people to blame, while trying to appear as smart as possible, instead of learning more.
For example, even if you manage to keep up your new diet for 14 days, which has never happened before, you don’t identify with the change and sabotage yourself.
The latter on the other hand will allow you to develop a great work ethic, become an optimist and create your own luck.
Imagine you responded to your donut-mishap like this: “I just stuck to a new diet for 14 days in a row, that’s my new record! Let me see what I can do to avoid the donut the next time so I can now get to 28 days.”
You’ll be proud of the great work you did so far, because you attach it to your own actions and build upon it to create further great work.
Entirely different, right?
Case in point:
Two men visit a Zen master.
The first man says: “I’m thinking of moving to this town. What’s it like?”
The Zen master asks: “What was your old town like?”
The first man responds: “It was dreadful. Everyone was hateful. I hated it.”
The Zen master says: “This town is very much the same. I don’t think you should move here.”
The first man leaves and the second man comes in.
The second man says: “I’m thinking of moving to this town. What’s it like?”
The Zen master asks: “What was your old town like?”
The second man responds: “It was wonderful. Everyone was friendly and I was happy. Just interested in a change now.”
The Zen master says: “This town is very much the same. I think you will like it here.”
Note: This story is an anecdote from James Altucher’s ‘The Rich Employee’, a definite recommend.
Here’s the part James left out though: Both men came from the same city.
The zen master knew that the first men was stuck in a fixed mindset, and that he would find new excuses and people to blame for his misery wherever he went.
The second man, however, would make the best of things anywhere, and the zen master knew that his growth mindset would allow him to prosper in the new city as well.
This post will help you become the second man.
3 Ways to Change Your Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset
So how do you go from fixed to growth mindset?
Your brain is a complicated masterpiece, and, even worse, it comes without a manual.
However, Dweck’s research has identified a few things you can do and I’d like to extend those with what I’ve learned so far.
For example, I found that my biggest changes in mindset have always occurred in “Holy shit!” moments.
Things like avoiding a near car crash and regaining control over a drifting car, waking up in a hospital with no memories (not too proud of that one), or finishing a 10k in spite of having the knees of a 70 year old.
But you can’t manufacture those moments, so what do you do?
You work towards them. By creating what I like to call mini epiphanies.
There are 3 things you can do every day, to maximize the number of mini epiphanies in your life.
1. Educate yourself
A very simple way to give yourself the chance to go “oh damn, of course!” is to pick up a book.
Learning something about a topic you fear or want to get better at often makes it seem less threatening.
For example, Dweck’s research showed that telling college students their brain forms new connections when they try hard, which will make them smarter, their attitude started to change.
In a similar manner, a fixed mindset is often the result of getting feedback in the wrong form from an early age on.
When you broke a plate as a kid, what did your parents tell you?
“You’re clumsy, sweety!” is entirely different than “You weren’t paying attention, honey. You gotta watch out more next time.”
The first statement makes you think you are clumsy. Subsequently, you expect yourself to be clumsy on future occasions as well.
The second makes your mistake specific to this occasion and ties it to your actions.
It’s the same with positive feedback. Constantly being told you’re great results in a lot of confidence, but your competence won’t necessarily match that.
Connecting your results with the work you put in reminds you that you’re still going to have to work hard the next time, which is why “good job, you worked very hard” is a much better encouragement than “good job, you’re very smart.”
Some great books around this topic are:
They offer plenty of mini epiphanies about your brain and mindset and you’ll find yourself going “ahhhh, thaaaaaaat’s why” multiple times throughout each book.
2. Learn about someone’s story
“No way, that guy had messed up knees too? If he can run that far, so can I!”
Humans are one big family. We love to relate.
Once someone pulls a hard achievement that “no one did before” into the realm of the possible, all of a sudden many people can do it.
Just like “nobody” could run a 4 minute mile until Roger Bannister did it. 2 months later, he and another guy did in in the same race.
So don’t just read blogs, read their about section. Learn about the people behind your favorite publications, podcasts, videos and books.
Read about the parts of their life that sucked (and sometimes still do), and the excuses they had before starting to put themselves out there.
Learn about your heroes and heroines, you’re bound to run into someone who was in a very similar position you are in right now.
You’ll start to see that a lot of successful people started out with a mindset just as fixed as yours.
A few other great places to collect mini epiphanies from other people are:
- Biographies (Sam Walton, Steve Jobs, Jerry Weintraub are good starters)
- Interviews (check out Mixergy)
- Movies (Unbroken, Jobs, 300)
All of these people had to grow past major and minor flaws to achieve their success — they had no option but to believe in the process before it worked out, in order for it to eventually do.
3. Make a true effort to find love (if you haven’t already)
This might only be me, and I know it sounds super unconventional, but love is the part of your life that requires you to grow the most.
And by a long shot.
I’m not talking about that pickup crap. Where people wear a number like it’s a badge of honor.
Anyone can find 100 people to hook up with.
Show me the person who’s trying to pick one out of 7 billion who they want to stay with for not only the night, but also the next day, and the day after that, and the one after that, until they’re old and grey — and I’ll show you someone who’s willing to grow.
Here are my top 3 mini epiphanies from my own quest for love:
- My parents announcing our move to another city when I was 8 years old. I was in love with a girl from my class — 2 of her teeth were super pointy, kind of like a vampire — and I realized “Holy shit! I’m never gonna see her again. I have to learn how to deal with this”. Dealing with it involved a lot of crying.
- Waking up with a major hangover, tons of hickeys, actual bites and scratches all over my neck and chest area (in spite of which not much else happened) — my bathroom mirror spoke to me: “That chick is crazy. Dating is a nightmare, you need to find a proper girlfriend fast!” That meant becoming someone who attracts the right person first.
- Realizing I had outgrown my first real girlfriend a few months into the relationship. While I kept improving myself, she was stuck on her high horse (she was 2 years older than me). Unfortunately, that horse was actually really tiny, and I knew I had to find someone who was willing to grow with me.
The beautiful part of dating is that you’re in control, which makes it a good starting point, even if your mindset is fixed. You get to tell the crazy ones to scram and ask the good ones for another date, after all.
With everyone you meet, you learn something (the least useful thing being that there’s more for you to learn).
Eventually, all those little learnings and insights amount to everything you need to be, when you meet the right person.
So if you’re in love with your best friend, finally ask them on a date, and see where the ride takes you.
Change your Tinder pics. Tell your ex to stay away. Make some progress and commit to it.
Don’t settle for the next best thing — even if it makes you uncomfortable.
Recap: How to Develop a Growth Mindset in 3 Steps
Fixed = frustrating. Growth = good.
Next to the rare, big “Holy Shit!” moments, there are 3 ways to start having mini epiphanies in your daily life:
- Educating yourself about fixed and growth mindsets
- Learning about someone else’s story to see it’s really all in your hands
- Quit the shenanigans and start getting serious about love
Don’t let your past determine your future.
Even if it means you’ll get run over by a steamroller a couple of times.
But for the non-steamroller days, I want to give you my personal summaries of 3 books around this topic:
- The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
- Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
- Rewire by Richard O’Connor
You can find all of these and 1,000+ more on Four Minute Books.